Category Archives: Skills and knowledge

The Global Education and Skills Forum 2017

Last week I spoke at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai.

I took part in a debate on the following topic: This house believes 21st century learners need their heads filled with pure facts. I spoke for the motion, together with Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for School Standards in the UK. Speaking against the motion was Andreas Schleicher, the Director of Education and Skills at PISA, who has been so influential in promoting the use of PISA’s rigorous and robust data sets when comparing education systems.  Also speaking against the motion was Gabriel Zinny, from the Argentinian National Ministry of Education and Sports. You can see a video of the debate here. For a summary of the my arguments, you can look at some of the previous things I’ve written, e.g. chapters 3 and 4 in Seven Myths about Education, or this blog post here on why the 21st century doesn’t fundamentally change everything.

The motion was not an easy one to defend given how absolute and extreme it was – in fact, in a discussion beforehand with Gabriel Zinny, we realised we actually agreed on many things! And at the start of the debate, the audience did not agree with the motion, as you can see from a vote taken at the beginning.

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But when the vote was retaken after the debate, we had managed to win a lot of people round.

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The rest of the conference was absolutely fascinating. There were a series of other debates, of which my favourite was on one whether we should teach global or national values. Julia Gillard spoke in favour of global values, and Michael Gove in favour of national. They both gave very smart, witty and thought-provoking speeches – I would recommend listening to them. I hadn’t heard of their debate partners, but they were also excellent. Lutfey Siddiqi, speaking in favour of national values, advanced an argument similar to ones I’ve read recently by David Goodhart, about how it is dangerous for global elites to become disconnected from their national communities. Emiliana Vegas spoke of the damage that teaching national values had done in her home country of Venezuela.

If I can make some kind of tenuous link between the two debates, I would say that the global concepts I think education should be most interested in are historic global inventions: in particular, the writing and number systems. We take these for granted and sometimes even forget that they are inventions. But writing and number systems are enormously profound and powerful concepts. They are the product of numerous minds from various cultures, and were developed through cross-cultural collaboration in an era long before global conferences. They are also completely abstract and counter-intuitive: it took hundreds of years of trial and error to develop them in their current format, and it is not possible for any one individual to discover or create them in their own lifetime. That, in turn, is one of the main reasons schools and universities were invented: writing and number systems will not be acquired spontaneously, and institutions are needed to safeguard and pass on this knowledge. Perhaps the conservative and ‘national’ aspect of education is that such institutions should be designed to conserve the hard-won knowledge of the past, and such institutions will almost always be organised along national lines, with respect to national cultures. The liberal and ‘global’ aspect of education is that the fundamental concepts we teach, the ones that enable everything else, belong to no nation. When we teach children to read or to count, we aren’t just giving them the tools they need to be able to participate in a conversation with mankind. We’re teaching them systems that evolved globally in an era before long-distance travel. The very existence of numbers and writing show that ideas recognise no borders, and are capable of persisting long after the civilisations and empires that gave birth to them.

The highlight of the conference was the presentation of the Global Teacher Prize on Sunday evening. I think the concept of the Global Teacher Prize is brilliant – the work that teachers do should be recognised and celebrated more often. The presentation of the award to the winner, Maggie MacDonnell, was extremely moving. You can see the ceremony here.


How to crack the Oxford History Aptitude Test

Recently, a friend of mine sent me a link to ‪Oxford University’s History Aptitude Tests (HAT). These tests are designed for 18 year olds applying for admission to Oxford. I really liked the look of them – the one I saw was interesting, challenging, covered a broad range of historical eras and I can imagine that it would be quite an interesting test to discuss in class too. However, I did also think that some of the advice that came with the tests wasn’t as helpful as it could have been. For example, here:

‪”The HAT is a test of skills, not substantive historical knowledge. It is designed so that candidates should find it equally challenging, regardless of what period(s) they have studied or what school examinations they are taking.”

I am not sure this is the case. The HAT does require substantive historical knowledge, and a candidate with knowledge of the eras on the test paper would not find it as challenging as a candidate with no such knowledge. Let’s have a look at some of the questions from this paper.

Question one
The first question features an extract from a book about the Comanche empire. The test advises that ‘you do not need to know anything about the subject to answer the questions below.’ I suppose that is true in the loosest sense, in that I do not need to know anything about physics in order to take an A-level in it. But of course, that isn’t the sense in which most of the examinees will be interested in. I think you do need to know something about North American colonisation to do well at the questions below. There are two questions. One of them is ‘In your own words, write a single sentence identifying the main argument of the first paragraph’, and the second is ‘What does the author argue in this passage about recent attempts made by historians to integrate Native Americans into the history of colonialism in North America?’

At first glance, it may seem as if these really aren’t testing prior knowledge, but are instead testing an abstract skill of ‘summarising’, or ‘argument recognition’. However, in actual fact, even these questions are testing substantive historical knowledge. The passage and question from HAT are actually uncannily similar to one of the classic experiments used to show why knowledge is so important for cognition.  In 1978, E.D. Hirsch asked groups of students to read two passages of equal difficulty in terms of vocabulary and syntax. One was about friendship, and one was about Grant and Lee and the end of the Civil War. University students understood both passages equally well. Poorer students at the community college did just as well on the passage about friendship, but struggled on the one about the Civil War. Hirsch theorised that their weakness on this second passage was down to their lack of knowledge about the Civil War, not any lack in some innate ‘passage comprehension’ ability. Similar research has been carried out again and again, to the extent that researchers in this field say that reading is not a ‘formal skill’: it is dependent on background knowledge. Recently, Kate Hammond’s articles in Teaching History about the power of ‘substantive historical knowledge’ also speak to the importance of background knowledge for historical understanding. She shows how pupils who have historical knowledge that goes beyond the exam rubric and even the era being studied are often able to deploy such knowledge in a way that leads to better analysis. For example, if a pupil has knowledge of how minority parties operate within a democracy, this can lead to better analysis of the challenges that faced the Nazi party in the 1920s.

In the case of the HAT extract about the Comanche empire, students with knowledge of western colonialism and the nature of indigenous societies will understand the passage better, read it quicker, and summarise it more acutely. Pupils without that knowledge will not be able to employ their generic ‘summarising’ or ‘historical analysis’ mental muscles, because such muscles don’t exist. Instead, they will be puzzling over what a ‘Euro-American’ is or what the ‘colonization of the Americas’ entailed.

Question two
The next question is: Write an essay of 1.5 to 3 sides assessing and explaining who were the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in any historical event, process or movement. You may answer with reference to any society, period or place with which you are familiar.

Obviously, you will need ‘substantive historical knowledge’ to answer this question. The more knowledge of different eras you have, the more likely you are to find one that fits the bill for the question, and the more detailed knowledge you have of each individual era, the more likely you are to have something worthwhile to say about it.

Question three
The final question is a source from 16th century Germany. It says, “You do not need to know anything about Germany in the sixteenth century to answer the question below, nor should you draw on any information from outside the source.”

As regards the first piece of advice, again, it’s true that you may not need to know anything to answer the question, but it will certainly help you if you do. But that’s better than the second piece of advice, which is actually cognitively impossible. The modern research on reading and cognition shows us that when we read, we make sense of the content by…drawing on information from outside the source.  No written text contains all the information we need to make sense of it. All texts depend to some extent on the reader supplying certain bits of information themselves.

When we look at the source itself, we can find plenty of examples of how knowledge from outside the text is impossible to avoid using, and is extremely helpful. First of all, there’s vocabulary: knowing the historical meanings of alms, peasants, lodgings and bathhouse would definitely be helpful. Second, there are references to concepts that have a particular meaning in medieval Europe: the phrase ‘put out of the city’, for example, makes a lot more sense if you understand something about medieval European cities, their rights and freedoms, and their geographical limits and defences. Similarly, there is a reference to epilepsy, which is now understood as a physical illness, but in 16th century Europe was seen as a sign of madness. All of this ‘information from outside the source’ would be hugely valuable in answering the question, and those students who have this information will do better than those who don’t.

I can see how this advice is intended to be well-meaning. I can see that it might be trying to ensure that candidates are not intimidated if they haven’t heard of a particular period of history, and perhaps also to demonstrate that this admissions test is fair to all pupils regardless of educational background – that even if you are a state school pupil who has only studied the Nazis and Tudors, you won’t be at a disadvantage to pupils from independent schools who have studied more historical topics. The test is attempting to uncover some kind of innate ‘historical aptitude’ which exists regardless of the amount of history books you’ve read or historical ideas you have been exposed to. The only problem, of course, is that such innate historical aptitude doesn’t exist. Like many concepts we mistakenly describe as ‘skill’, the ability to analyse historical problems and sources is not something innate and discrete which resides mysteriously within us. It is learnt, and depends to a large degree on the amount of knowledge we have in long-term memory. Actually, in the case of history, this should be even easier to appreciate than in other fields of life. For example, there is no such thing as innate chess skill, but it does at least feel plausible that there might be a part of the brain devoted to the logic necessary for chess. There is no such thing as innate historical skill either, and it feels less plausible that there is a part of the brain devoted to analysing the causes of the Second World War. The concept of ‘historical aptitude’ reminds me of GK Chesterton’s famous quotation:

 Education, they say, is the Latin for leading out or drawing out the dormant faculties of each person. Somewhere far down in the dim boyish soul is a primordial yearning to learn Greek accents or to wear clean collars; and the schoolmaster only gently and tenderly liberates this imprisoned purpose. Sealed up in the newborn babe are the intrinsic secrets of how to eat asparagus and what was the date of Bannockburn. The educator only draws out the child’s own unapparent love of long division; only leads out the child’s slightly veiled preference for milk pudding to tarts.

I spoke to a couple of friends who teach at independent schools and frequently prepare students for this assessment. They disagreed with the ideas that a) you couldn’t prepare students for it and b) it didn’t depend on knowledge. They said that you could prepare students for it by getting them to read lots about lots of different historical eras, and that the students who knew more history generally did better on it. Interestingly, however, they also said that it was because of these reasons that, like me, they quite liked the test. It wasn’t possible to game it in any way, and preparing students for this test generally involved activities which made them better historians, not just better test takers. And they felt the results generally did distinguish between candidates who were and were not good at history. I suspect in many cases, therefore, the advice on this paper is not the end of the world, as plenty of people are probably ignoring it.  Still, both the friends I spoke to were at independent schools who put a lot of time and effort into cracking the Oxbridge admissions code. What about teachers at schools who don’t have a tradition of Oxbridge entry, or can’t devote as much time to reading the runes of these tests? Aren’t they more likely to take this advice at face value – and aren’t their pupils therefore more likely to do badly on such a test? Improving the advice on how to prepare for this test could help all students become better historians, but it could particularly help students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

What can teachers learn from high-performance sport? Plan for injury!

Yesterday I went to a brilliant day of professional development at Ark Globe Academy called Teach Like a Top Athlete: Coaching and Mastery Methods. I went to a workshop run by the amazing Jo Facer on Mastery Planning, and one by the equally amazing Dan Lavipour and Michael Slavinsky called What Can Teachers Learn From High Performance Sport? Dan is a former Olympic coach who now works in youth sports performance; Michael is a former French teacher and the Teaching and Learning Director at Researchers in Schools. Dan and Michael formed a great double act, as Dan talked us through some principles of high performance sport, and Michael drew out some of the analogies for the classroom. And there were tons of analogies. I think a lot about the links between sport and teaching, but these two took it to another level. There were dozens of things I could have chosen to blog about – deliberate practice, the theory of self-determination, the links between the conjugate periodization of training and linear exam courses – but the one that I am going to restrict myself to for now is what Dan and Michael had to say about planning for injury. In sport, injury happens. Netballers get ankle and knee problems; fast bowlers get stress fractures; footballers get hamstring issues. When you plan for injury, you work out what the common injuries are in your discipline and set up training plans that attempt to prevent such injuries.

So is there an analogy with teaching here? Obviously it’s not perfect, but I think there is. In our subjects, we can work out what the top 10 most common misconceptions or errors are, and set up our schemes of work to try and anticipate and prevent them. Here’s an example: I once did an analysis of recalled GCSE scripts in English which showed that ambiguous pronouns were a  major weakness and a real impediment to understanding. Pupils used ‘it’ and ‘they’ a lot, without always being clear who or what those pronouns were referring to.  Some targeted work on pronouns and antecedents could have helped improve clarity.

How can we identify such common misconceptions? In many subjects, we’ll already have a good idea, and in maths and the sciences, there are plenty of great resources out there listing them. But Michael suggested another profitable method: analysing examiners’ reports to see what issues seem to crop up again and again. This is something I started doing when I was researching my book, Seven Myths about Education. I included one example in the book: an examiners’ report which explained that many pupils thought a glacier was a wild tribe of humans from the north. In the report’s words:

Given the current interest in environmental issues, and the popularity of a particular type of film and television programme, it was surprising that a number of candidates seemed unaware of what a glacier is and some seemed to be convinced that the glaciers were some sort of tribe, presumably advancing from somewhere in the north.

There are other examiners’ reports which helpfully list the common writing errors made by pupils. This one, for example, from OCR:

Common errors included not marking sentence divisions, confusion over its and it’s, homophone errors (there/their/they’re and to/too), writing one word instead of two (infact, aswell, alot, incase, eachother) and writing two words instead of one (some one, no where, country side, your self, any thing, neighbour hood). A surprising number of candidates used capitals erratically: for example, they did not feature at the beginning of names but did appear randomly in the middle of words.

These reports also have interesting things to say about the use of PEE paragraphs, and mnemonic techniques like AFOREST. But my favourite type of  examiners’ reports are the ones on unseen reading and writing exams.  The unseen reading texts can be on any topic, and often, the examiners’ report ends up lamenting the students’ lack of knowledge about some crucial aspect of thet ext. They provide perfect examples of how reading is not a skill, and why background knowledge is crucial for comprehension. Here’s just a few examples of what I mean.

Most candidates were able to gain a mark for the next part of the question stating that the whale shark eats plankton. However a number of candidates offered no answer, perhaps they did not recognise plankton to be food, although the context should have made this clear.

The first part of the question simply asked candidates to note the distance Mike Perham had travelled on his round-world voyage. Most selected the correct distance: 30,000 miles, though some over-complicated the response by confusing the distance the report said Perham still had to cover on the final leg of his journey with the total distance. This led to some candidates saying the whole journey was 30,300, whilst others reported the voyage to be just 300 miles. (WJEC)

I thought that I might be apologising for how embarrassingly straightforward this question was but it proved to be inexplicably difficult as many of the candidates just could not focus their minds on the reasons why the Grand National is such a dangerous race. I know that comparison has always been difficult but this question was set up to make things as straightforward as possible. Still it seemed like an insurmountable hurdle, the examining equivalent of Becher’s Brook, at which large numbers fell dramatically. I cannot really explain why so many candidates got themselves into such a tangle with this question. Many of them went round in circles, asserting that the race was dangerous because it was dangerous. (WJEC)

However, what was very noticeable was that many candidates had very little idea of what was in these places or why someone might want to visit (except for Alton Towers of course). Specific attractions were often in very short supply and usually were just mentioned in passing before the article got to the serious business of shopping and eating. I have to admit that the idea of making a day trip to London or Manchester to shop in Primark or eat in KFC did not appeal massively, although it is true that teenagers may find such things irresistible. More seriously, I think a better sense of audience might have helped here, although the lack of knowledge about places is not easy to remedy. (WJEC)

Lack of knowledge in general is certainly not easy to remedy, especially in the short term when you are preparing for an exam. But if we took it back a couple of steps, and started to ‘plan for injury’ in schools, not just on the sports field, how might we try and address this lack of knowledge? What would we need to change? When and where would be need to begin? When you think about it like this, the advantages of a coherent and sequenced knowledge-based curriculum become very obvious.

Debating Education review

I spent yesterday at the Michaela Community School Debating Education event, which was absolutely brilliant. I spoke against the motion ‘Sir Ken is right: traditional education kills creativity’, and Guy Claxton spoke for it. Here are some of my notes from this debate, and the day.

It’s about methods, not aims

I agree with Sir Ken Robinson that creativity is the aim of education. However, where we disagree is on how you can best develop such creativity. Sir Ken praises High Tech High’s model of instruction, where instead of memorising, pupils are doing. Guy Claxton recommends, among other things, that to develop the skill of imagining, pupils should lie on the ground, look at the sky and then ‘close their eyes to imagine how the sky changes as a storm approaches.’ By contrast, I think the best way to develop creativity is through direct instruction, memorisation and deliberate practice (for a specific example of how memorisation leads to creativity in a scheme of work on Midsummer Night’s Dream, see here). This might sound counter-intuitive, but actually, such practices are more effective at developing creativity than just asking children to be creative. Robert Bjork has shown that performance isn’t the same as learning. K Anders Ericsson has shown that what matters isn’t just practice, but deliberate practice: ‘mere repetition of an activity will not automatically lead to improvement’. Deliberate practice is when you isolate the component parts of a task and repeatedly practice them instead. So asking pupils to do creative tasks isn’t the best way of developing creativity. Asking them to memorise examples of rhetorical devices might not look creative, but it might be better at developing creativity. The question is not about finding a balance between memory and creativity, or between knowledge and skill. It’s about recognising that memory is the pathway to creativity, and that skill is composed of knowledge. As John Anderson said, ‘All that there is to intelligence is the simple accrual and tuning of many small bits of knowledge which in total make up complex cognition. The whole is no more than the sum of its parts, but it has a lot of parts.’

What we had in yesterday’s debate was not a false dichotomy. There was real disagreement. If Sir Ken and Guy set up a school and I set up a school, they would look very different, even though we both had the same aim. And because we have the same aim, the argument is not about whether I am in favour of creativity or not (I am), or whether Sir Ken is in favour of knowledge or not (I’m prepared to accept he is), or whether we just need a balance between the two. The argument is about whose methods are more successful at delivering our shared aim of creativity.

The other debates

I’m very grateful to all at Michaela for organising so many good debates. Bruno Reddy and Andrew Old debated the value of mixed ability teaching.  James O’Shaughnessy and Joe Kirby had all the RE & philosophy teachers in the room getting excited  with their discussion of  ethics, character,  and ancient Greek philosophers. Katie Ashford and John Blake argued about the perennially  vexed issue of Ofsted.  Finally, Jonny Porter and Francis Glibert clashed over the reputation of Michael Gove, in front of an audience which may well have included nearly every teacher in England who agreed with him.

I particularly liked the way the day was structured as a series of debates. As one of the debaters, I can assure you that preparing for a debate of this type is a lot more hard work than preparing for a panel discussion. But I think it does also result in a better event. At panel discussions, it’s really easy for everyone to speak for five minutes on their pet theme, regardless of what the topic actually is. Even if the chair is good, it’s often hard to really get to the  heart of an issue. But with debates like these, you very quickly get to  the important and controversial issues. There are plenty of false dichotomies in education, certainly. But there are some real ones too, and we shouldn’t be afraid to discuss them. We discussed the hell out of them yesterday!

“Certain things then follow from that”: Notes on ED Hirsch’s Policy Exchange lecture

On Thursday evening I had the privilege of hearing ED Hirsch give the Policy Exchange education lecture.  Hirsch in person was much like Hirsch the author: self-effacing, erudite, quietly compelling and wryly humorous.  He spoke about what the best kind of early education should look like, and stressed the egalitarian effect of teaching knowledge to young children. In order to become good readers, children have to develop a large vocabulary and a lot of knowledge about the world, and both vocabulary and background knowledge are ‘plants of slow growth’. That’s why it’s so important to start in the early years. We also cannot rely on search engines to teach pupils this vital knowledge, because “Google is not an equal opportunity fact-finder”: to look something up on the internet requires knowledge to begin with.

One of the most interesting moments came near the end of the lecture, when in response to a question, he said that if you acknowledge the research on reading comprehension, “certain things then follow from that.” This, I think, is one of the most pleasurable things about reading books by Hirsch. He is a master at compiling a logical case. He practises what he preaches about knowledge: every book or article of his that I have read marshals a vast array of evidence, carefully detailing each piece of research, and then clearly outlining the implications which flow from it. The links between experiments on chess players, the evolution of irregular verbs, and kindergarten resources on ancient Mesopotamia are not immediately clear, but Hirsch makes them so.  It’s like watching a master craftsman at work, or reading a clever detective novel where every clue and red herring falls neatly into place in the final chapter.

Hirsch’s own intellectual journey is similarly full of such unexpected meaning: he began as a literature professor writing about the Romantics, critiqued the popular literary theory of reader-response in Validity in Interpretation, and carried out original research on students’ ability to appreciate written style. It was this latter research which led, obliquely, to his interest in education, because the experiments also showed that students were unable to understand a text if they lacked knowledge of its subject.  This intellectual journey reminds me of another famous Virginian: it was Thomas Jefferson who said that he was “bold in the pursuit of knowledge, never fearing to follow truth and reason to whatever results they led, and bearding every authority which stood in their way.”  For Jefferson too, certain things followed from reason, and sometimes those things contradicted the prevailing authorities. The modern educational establishment is obviously not as warlike as George III, although sometimes it can feel as though they are equally blasé about reality.

One other point I found of particular interest was Hirsch’s discussion of some of the popular modern aims of education. He quoted the motto of school boards in Tucson, Milwaukee and Santa Fe  – all variations on the theme of ‘children will develop organisational, critical thinking and problem-solving skills’. He argued that such vague, motherhood-and-apple-pie type statements are so popular because they are very convenient with bureaucrats. I could not agree with this more. I have written at length lately about the problems with performance descriptors – those wishy-washy statements which are meant to ‘define’ what a pupil can know and do. Despite the fact that most people recognise how useless they are, they have a zombie-like tenacity. Why is this? As Hirsch says, they are popular with bureaucrats, and I think this is because they offer an illusion of meaning, and also because the alternative to such statements is to specify knowledge, which always requires hard thinking and often leads to controversy. This brings me to the final reason why Hirsch’s work is so important: his work is always practical. The Core Knowledge Curriculum is used in thousands of schools in the US; the ‘What your nth-grader needs to know’ series are bestsellers; the Core Knowledge Language Arts resources have been adopted by New York City and been the subject of a highly successful evaluation. Untold numbers of children have had a better education because of Hirsch.

This is the light in which we should view the famous list of facts at the end of Cultural Literacy. I know it’s popular even among people who are sympathetic to Hirsch to dismiss the list of facts and statements in Cultural Literacy as ‘simplistic’ or ‘naïve’. Not at all. It is precisely the concrete simplicity of the list which is so valuable. It is easy for academics to waffle on at length about the importance of knowledge, and then, at the crunch moment, resort to some vague statements of competency and skill which have absolutely no practical use.  The list may look simplistic, and it is simple, but it is the product of much abstract research. In Hirsch’s work, clarity of action proceeds from clarity of writing, which proceeds from clarity of thought.  Hirsch makes research tangible. That is his genius.

Maths facts other than times tables

Nicky Morgan’s comments today have started a debate over whether pupils really do need to have to learn their times tables by the end of primary. I think they should and I’m not going to rehearse the arguments here.

What I do want to do is to ask what other maths facts it’s useful for pupils to know by heart? The new national curriculum specifically says that pupils should memorise the number bonds up to 20 and the times tables up to 12, but are there other facts it is worthwhile memorising?

I’m going to start by saying fraction / decimal equivalences. I’m not talking about ones like 0.5, 0.25, etc, which are obviously helpful but which most pupils will just know (I hope!).  I also think that memorising the decimal equivalences of less common fractions is useful: in particular, fractions with denominators of 6, 7, 8, 12 and 15.  Very often newspaper articles and statistics you come across in everyday life are reported as fractions in these terms – for example, one in seven adults has a subscription to Netflix, or one in every 12 pounds is spent at Tesco (I made those up by the way). Being able to instantly flick back and forward from that to the percentage is really useful. The reverse is also useful. A lot of data are reported as precise percentages, and being able to easily mentally flick from this to a fraction often helps with understanding. If someone tells you that Andy Carroll wins 84% of aerial duels, it can help to think instead that that means he loses about one in every six of them. (Also a made-up stat).

It’s also a classic example of why it isn’t enough to know how to work it out. You might know how to convert a fraction to a decimal, but by the time you’d worked it out, you’d have forgotten what the context of the statistic was.  The person who did know that 1/12 is 8.3% can move on to considering whether Tesco’s dominant market share is a cause for concern, estimating the share of other big chains and wondering what that might look like as an absolute sum of money. As ever, knowing stuff off by heart enables critical thinking rather than stifling it.

Some other suggestions: the 75 times tables. The person who suggested this one did so as a technique for winning the numbers game on Countdown. I wouldn’t recommend that we reorganise education around winning TV quiz shows (god forbid) but since I took this advice and learnt my 75 times tables, I have found them useful in more ways than expected. I suspect this is the case with a lot of these things – it’s only once you learn them that you fully appreciate how useful they are. A bit of the Dunning-Kruger effect, perhaps.

Any maths teachers out there, please leave your suggestions in the comments. Square numbers? Other times tables?

Daily Politics soapbox – facts are vital

Today I was on the Daily Politics soapbox talking about why facts are vital for learning. Click on the image below to see the video on the BBC website.


For more information about the research I refer to, see my book, Seven Myths about Education, available here.

The short video was filmed at the Ragged School Museum in East London. It is a lovely little museum just round the back of the Mile End Road. The building was one of Doctor Barnado’s original ragged schools in the late 19th century, set up to educate the poor of the East End. It closed in 1908, and in 1990 it was turned into a museum. As well as some permanent displays, children can take part in an authentic Victorian lesson, taught by the rather formidable lady in the video. My mother and father grew up not far from this school, although I feel I should point out they are not quite old enough to have actually attended it. I also grew up in East London not far from the museum and can remember visiting the museum as a child. It is definitely worth visiting, or taking a school trip to.